30.05.08 – By Andrew Harrison: Next weekend Gary ‘The Rocket Man’ Lockett will be hoping to blast his career up into the stratosphere against one of boxing’s shooting stars and king of the middleweights, Kelly Pavlik. The oddsmakers make Lockett a rank outsider to oust Pavlik from his newly fitted throne, however most concede Gary a puncher’s chance and what seems certain is that the Welshman will be brave to a fault for as long as he’s in there pitching. Here are a few examples of other Brits in recent times who, like Gary, went right up against it in an attempt to gatecrash boxing’s big league..
Richie Wenton v Marco Antonio Barrera
Scouser Richie Wenton’s mandatory challenger status saw him demolished in pursuit of the vacant WBO super bantamweight title in the autumn of ‘98 by a comebacking Marco Antonio Barrera. Both boxers had battled back after facing the sort of adversity many others don’t easily recover from. Toxteth born Wenton, a former British champ had been involved in tragedy after a domestic bout claimed opponent Bradley Stone’s life in 1994. Barrera on the other hand was still tiptoeing down the path of recuperation after suffering a brace of defeats to Junior Jones. The ‘Baby Faced Assassin’ lifted the textbook Mexican fighting style directly from the pages of the boxing manual and into the Atlantic City ring this night. He systematically dismantled Wenton, beating the man from the North West of England unmercifully, delivering a withering body attack which saw the gutsy Liverpudlian pulled out at the end of round three after being dropped twice by crunching body shots.
Howard Clarke v Fernando Vargas
Clarke, a journeyman from Essex with a modest record of 26-10-2, landed a surprise IBF title tilt at rising 154 lb star Fernando Vargas, who was 15-0 (15), on the undercard of the huge Lewis Holyfield showdown in 1999. Sporting a natty peroxide barnet and Union flag shorts, Clarke certainly looked the part but he was hopelessly outgunned in the event, floored four times before referee Wayne Kelly saw fit to terminate matters in round four. Howard was game and gave Vargas a good workout for as long as he could manage to fend off the inevitable conclusion that the chasm in class all but guaranteed. Clarke applauded the surly Vargas mid ring as he was paraded atop his handler’s shoulders, sportsmanship which cracked Fernando’s belligerent veneer and saw ‘Clarkey’ (as Oxnard’s finest had termed Howard) earn something not many of Vargas’s foes had been afforded up to that point; his respect.
Kevin Lueshing v Felix Trinidad
Trinidad had a few gimmes throughout his title reign at welterweight (he was a King fighter after all) and this was seen as just another tune up for the lead fisted Puerto Rican. Kevin Lueshing from Beckenham, Kent was gifted an unlikely shot at Tito, who was then 30-0 (26), in Nashville in January ’97 by promoter Frank Warren as part of a King promoted card. A part time model nicknamed ‘The Look’, Lueshing must have decided to cash in his chips with this one, a fight with the surging wrecking machine not one to embark upon if you fancy earning your corn away from boxing, by having your handsome visage photographed. Despite being given zero chance of the upset, Lueshing gave Tito a real scare in the second round by dumping him on the seat of his pants with a hefty left hook. As many other Trinidad opponents found to their cost however, putting Felix down and keeping him there are two different matters entirely. As he did so often, Trinidad fought back with fury and stopped Lueshing in the very next round.
Michael Nunn v Crawford Ashley
Former British light heavyweight champ Crawford Ashley from Leeds shed a few pounds in April 1993, in order to challenge one of boxing’s top stars, Michael Nunn, in Memphis. The dreadlocked Ashley was revered domestically as a banger, all of his 18 wins coming inside the distance and it was hoped his punch could see him overturn the odds in what was Nunn’s third defence of his WBA super middleweight title. Fighting outside of Europe for the first time, Ashley was unlucky to encounter a more aggressive Nunn than had been seen previously. Finding no luck with headshots Nunn noticed a weakness when aiming for the bread basket. A succession of lefts crumpled Crawford twice in round five. Nunn smelt blood and zeroed in downstairs, winging hard hooks which sent the Brit sprawling three times in the sixth, invoking the three knockdown rule at 2 minutes 59 of the round and bringing the curtain down on Ashley’s challenge.
Winky Wright v Steve Foster
Former pub landlord Foster was given a shot at unheralded WBO light middleweight Ronald Wright in 1997 in what proved to be his swansong. In a reversal of the scenarios above, Wright was shipped over to England to allow promoter Frank Warren to match a succession of his fighters against the crafty southpaw (Wright would face, and defeat, Adrian Dodson after this fight). A decent domestic scrapper, Salford’s Foster was looking to improve on gym mate Ensley Bingham’s performance against Wright, one which had seen him completely shut out on the scorecards. A gregarious and engaging chap, Foster (known as ‘The Viking’) was cheered to the ring by his raucous fans and gave it a good honest crack; however Wright was just far too good. Bloodying Foster’s nose early, Winky switched his attack to the body in round six, downing Steve with a short right hook. The fight evidently drained out of Foster but he bravely staggered up and fought on only to be dumped face down again with another body shot brought in by Wright through the side door. It would later come to light that Foster had been in the ring with someone rather special that night.
Lockett like those listed above will be brave and has a puncher’s chance against his more illustrious opponent. He would do well to cover up downstairs, the examples I’ve looked at show boxing’s top operators found a lot of success going to the body when met with stubborn British resistance up top. If he can land that once in a lifetime shot as Kevin Lueshing managed to, then who knows, he may well spring an enormous surprise; one which the brave Brits listed above would all surely raise a glass to.